Exploring the Impact of the Nervous System on Your Sleep Quality with Louise Tjernqvist
When we look at human biology, few systems are as complex and fascinating as the nervous system.
This intricate network of nerves, cells, and neurotransmitters is crucial in regulating numerous bodily functions, including the one we cherish most—sleep.
In one of the most recent episodes of the Sleep Like a Boss podcast, I had an opportunity to explore the remarkable influence of the nervous system on our sleep patterns and delve into the mechanisms behind this essential relationship with Louise Tjernqvist.
Louise is a proud mother of two and a two-time Olympian with an Olympic medal to her name. Drawing from her struggles, Louise now imparts the wisdom she wished she had possessed 30 years ago—guiding both athletes and individuals lost in their journeys.
Her expertise lies in the intricate balance of mental, physical, and energetic healing.
She coaches top athletes, equipping them with the tools to prioritize self-care, prolong their careers, and optimize their performance.
Simultaneously, Louise compassionately cares for clients burdened by complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), autoimmune diseases, and mental health challenges.
Central to Louise's approach is the regulation of the nervous system.
She empowers her clients to reconnect with their bodies, find equilibrium within their nervous systems, and reclaim their personal power. Her holistic guidance aids individuals in grounding themselves and restoring balance, irrespective of their physical or mental health challenges.
How to Deal with Fight, Flight, and Freeze
Louise explains that there are three basic stress responses when it comes to our nervous system, and those are: fight, flight, and freeze.
So, when we look at our nervous system, we have one part that allows us to stay grounded, feel creative, feel safe and connect with other human beings.
This is where healing takes place.
On the other hand, we have a fight-flight state, a stressed state in which the body pumps out cortisol and adrenaline while in this state (bye-bye sleep).
We want our body to be able to react quickly and get into this stressed state to manage an acute threat, but we also need it to come back down into a state of rest and digest.
And that is what we want; we want this regulation of recovery so we can speed things up a bit and take a little pause, speed things up a bit and take pause.
Because if we stay in fight-flight for too long and then come down into this healing phase, the body will eventually go into a freeze state.
This is where the body essentially shuts down to preserve energy.
It is not a comfortable state to be in, but it is necessary because it is saving us from the overwhelm.
Overwhelm happens when there is too much of something or something is moving too fast or too little for too long.
All of these situations, all of these traumas, can lead us into a freeze state.
How to Regulate Your Nervous System
When you’re trying to regulate your nervous system, the most important thing is to take small steps and try to meet your nervous system where it is at.
And sleep is a big part of that.
If we're not sleeping, we're in a constant state of stress and we don't get the recovery like we should in order for our body to heal.
When we are in the state of recovery, the predominant nerve that is activated is the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve represents the main nerve of our parasympathetic nervous system.
This system controls specific body functions such as digestion, heart rate and immune system.
There are two parts to the vagus nerve; a front part and a back part.
The front part is the healing part, and the back part of the vagus nerve runs from the diaphragm and down, which involves our whole digestion and gut area.
That means if our nervous system is overwhelmed, our whole digestion is compromised. This is how we digest food and absorb nutrients needed for healing.
But if we’re in a fight or flight mode, the healing priority will not be on our gut or our sleep. This can lead to issues like a leaky gut, which can make sleep issues even worse.
How to regulate your nervous system
If you're looking for ways to start self-regulating your nervous system, here is what Louise suggests:
- Start with awareness: Pay attention to your patterns and observe the situations you feel stressed about. Do you get the urge to scroll on your phone when stressed? Are you having five cups of coffee before lunch? Do you get more emotional if you haven’t eaten enough?
- Be patient: This kind of work takes time, especially if you’re set on doing things a certain way and now you realize that you need to make some changes. Again, it’s all about those small steps.
- Address the biochemistry: Have a practitioner help you run testing on you to see what is going on in your system. Regulating the nervous system will require energy; pay attention to what your body needs and course correct as you move forward.
- Work on the sense of safety: Overwhelming trauma is signified by disconnection from self. Something happened that was so uncomfortable and so scary that to survive, you disconnected. So you need to bring yourself back into the body with the deepest respect because some uncomfortable memories can be stored there, so you need to feel safe to do this work.
Remember that as long as you fight your own nervous system, it will scream at you even louder.
You need to befriend it and learn to understand your nervous system.
Understanding how your nervous system gets wired, labelling the different states of your nervous system and tracking it to see where you're at - all of that is very soothing for the mind and allows it to move forward.